This joy of a documentary, narrated by avant-garde artist Laurie Anderson, is a long overdue study of the remarkable women who pioneered the world of electronic music.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2021
Filmmaker Lisa Rovner blends archival footage and interviews with female electronic musicians in this fascinating documentary, including Clara Rockmore, a Theremin virtuoso who achieved fame performing with orchestras in the 1930s; Delia Derbyshire, co-creator of the Doctor Who theme and mathematician; and Buchla modular analog synthesiser diva Suzanne Ciani, the first woman to score a major Hollywood film, alongside founding her own electronic music record label and inventing the New Age genre.
Daphne Oram, co-founder of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, was an early inspiration for Rovner, and a quote from her 1972 book, An Individual Note of Music, Sound and Electronics, guides the film’s premise: “Do not let us fall into the trap of trying to name one man as the 'inventor' of electronic music.”
There are many astounding moments in this film. Footage of Ciani caressing and coaxing sounds from her behemoth modular Buchla synthesiser is particularly touching, as is seeing French composer Eliane Radigue cry when she hears a decades-old work finally being performed.
Pauline Oliveros, born in 1932 and openly gay from the dawn of her career, speaks of society needing “a complete change of consciousness, throughout the musical field... Listening is the basis of creativity of culture.”
Sadly, these stories serve to highlight the lack of attention and recognition women receive in their field today. At its base, Sisters with Transistors is not just about women electronic music pioneers, but of how little things have changed for them. — Jaimie Webster Haines